Public Outcry Causes Photographer to Drop Copyright Lawsuit

A Tucson photographer recently found out the hard way that the public doesn’t always side with photographers in copyright infringement cases, even if their claims are valid. About a month after the tragic 2011 Tucson shooting, portrait photographer Jon Wolf threatened so sue nearly three dozen media outlets after they showed a portrait he made of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green — the youngest victim — and demanded $125,000 from one newspaper for publishing the image.

It soon came to light that Wolf rushed to register the photograph with the US Copyright office the first business day after the shooting, and approached the Green family that same day requesting that they sign a release to give him permission to license the image rights to the media.

Needless to say, there was soon a public outcry against Wolf’s actions. A Facebook group named “Boycott Jon Wolf Photography for suing over Christina Green’s photo” was created, and gained over 1,000 supporters, and people began leaving harsh 1-star ratings for Wolf’s photography services on Yelp. Finally, the Green family also issued a public rebuke, stating

Jon Wolf, as we have painfully learned, showed poor taste in his choice to litigate over the usage of his photograph of our little girl Christina-Taylor Green. Our intent was not to allow others to profit from the Jon Wolf image but to allow the media to portray our daughter in the best light possible and to tell her story. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to litigate over the use of his photograph at this time, or at all, in light of the fact that our family is still mourning and grieving the loss of our daughter. [#]

Wolf soon announced that he would be giving up his efforts to sue.

(via PDN Pulse)

Image credits: Images by KGUN9

  • Robert

    I can imagine his business is pretty much ruined. What a tone deaf decision.

  • DM|ZE

    Wow, if people would think of how their actions are going to play out or affect others it would really go a long way. This guy could’ve prevented this whole order by just saying it’s not worth the fight.

  • SNT

    I don’t see how he could copyright it, since the photo was work for hire.. the final copyright as i was told in photography class, the copyrights belong to the client.. not the photographer.. Unless in AZ laws have it differently.

  • Amber Wilkie

    Photographer owns the rights to images he takes, and that should have been in his contract. But it just shows poor taste to try to profit from this.

  • Nikhil Ramkarran

    He ghoulishly tried to profit from a little girl’s death and a tragic situation. I’ve read in another report that he was offered some publisher’s standard licensing fee (when he started making his demands) but he insisted on being paid some absurd amount. It is clear that all he was interested in is profit.

    People are entitled to the benefit of their work, but surely what he tried here was more akin to blackmail. He is getting just what he deserves.

  • Michal Fanta

    I don’t think that’s true. There might be exceptions, but photographer usually owns the copyright to his photograph and licenses it to the client.

  • Michal Fanta


  • Michael Turcotte

    Work for higher is when you take photographs as part of your job for somebody else. That somebody owns the copyright. Wolf owned his studio and any photos taken by staffers in that studio while they were on the clock.

  • Trudy

    This is a case to let it slide. He should have used better judgment. In like 99% of cases I side with my fellow photogs but this is not one of them. The public already doesn’t respect federal copyright law so you have to choose battles wisely. The media IS packed with vultures who exploit artists by using words and images without permission EVERYDAY, but in the sake of this beautiful child’s life he should have let the vipers prevail in this case for the greater good. Now his name is ruined.

  • allanwhite

    It’s, “work for hire”. I own the copyright to the images I make for clients, but they own the prints. There’s other arrangements, also; corporate jobs are work-for-hire and they own the copyright. I usually have to make an addendum so I can use them in my portfolio (the answer isn’t always yes).

    In any case, sometimes the right to something doesn’t make it smart to claim it. He’s either moving or changing the name of his studio.

  • Mr Me

    wow…what a real jerk photographer.
    People like him are why the public has a pretty low view of photographers ..way to go pal!!!!

  • Cornell

    In addition to Jon Wolf being a jerk, I’m wondering whether he has a legal leg to stand on.

    1. How did the Arizona newspaper obtain the photo? Was it stolen from him? Did he give it to the newspaper and, if so, did he, at that time, place any restriction(s) on its use?

    2. The first business day after the shooting would have been Monday, January 10th. When did the edition with the photo go to print?

  • Samantha

    The family probably gave the news papers the photos. They should have asked the photographer permission first. If thats not something you want to do then don’t use that photo. Simple. The news papers went on to reproduce and distribute, also violating copyright laws. The particular situation makes it a bit tough to want to properly carry out legal actionThat doesn’t make it right. Seems the public has no knowledge about photography and copyright laws. You don’t have to go to the copyright office for the image to be copyrighted. It makes life easier if you ever need to prove that you took the photo (say in court) if you do that.
    Restrictions are Copyright All Rights Reserved. As defined by wikipedia: “Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work.”
    I agree it is a sensitive situation. Not sure what my personal action would be. I wonder if the news papers gave him credit at the very least. The photographer has two very solid legal legs to stand on and personally I don’t think he should have dropped the case if his business is already ruined.

    Work for hire means nothing. They paid the photog for his time and probably prints. Not for licensing/copyright rights. If someone is willing to sell that to you expect to pay an arm and a leg. If you take a photo, the copyright belongs to you unless you’re taking photos on the job while working for an agency. Then the copyright belongs to them.
    Perhaps you should all educate yourselves on what you can and cannot do with other people’s photographs.

  • Christopher

    Don’t forget that U.S. Copyright Law includes a fair use provision that limits the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. Courts can side against photographers when weighing the four fair use factors. Whether Wolf had “solid legal legs” is debatable. Here’s an example where the courts favored a newspaper over a photographer:
    Nunez v. Caribbean Intern. News Corp., 235 F. 3d 18 – Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit 2000

  • aWebJam

    He is now back peddling trying to reverse the damage by saying he was going to donate all the money to a charity in her name. Why didn’t he just donate the photo and let the family mourn without the extra hassle? This is a very costly mistake for him.

  • Mike

    Wow, once again I find myself disagreeing with Copyright law. Whether or not it was used fairly aside, no photographer should own the pictures that they take for others that were not intended for public consumption (I.e., to be resold and resold over the life of the photographer). He was hired to take their pictures and they paid him for his photography/printing services and time. They, not him, should own the rights to use the picture(s) they paid for in any way they choose. It is now their physical property, after all. 

    As we see, there is nothing “creative” being preserved by enforcing copyrights in cases such as this. Contrary to the perceived violation of his rights, he has now legitimately harmed his business. Had he merely not done anything it is possible he might have instead received more referrals for his fine work based on local inquiries as to where the photography took place. 

    Eventually, Libertarian markets will win the day. It’s only a matter of time, and I wish more people would start changing their business practices voluntarily to reflect this. 

  • Bathroom Furniture

    Even i agree with SNT the final copyright of the photograph is of the client not of the photographers.Every one is playing game to make money thats it no one is least bothered about the family who lost their daughter…

  • Zachary Uram

    This photographer should be ashamed of himself. What a vile, despicable human being!

  • Kbledsoephoto

    I completely agree with Samantha. Obviously no one else is familiar with situations like these.

  • Keith

    the client does NOT own copyrights UNLESS they bought them.. They may have a license but copyrights belong to the photographer only

  • Keith

    spot on samantha, it is touchy but people want to look at it as oh hes just trying to make money well apparently you know as well as myself also being a photography guru it may have had something to do with it but it is still within copyright laws which most do not recognize nor understand

  • Keithj30

    This response is ignorant maybe you need to read up on Copyright laws as well

  • Salvador D

    Why do you socialists hate someone trying to make a profit so much? Extending your logic, no photographer covering wars or any sort of misery deserves to get paid, just the ones who shoot rainbows and unicorns.

  • A. Photographer

    America loves sensationalism! With all this outcry he’ll probably get his cash from apearing on some talk show! ( Yes he was insensitive and if handled diffrently he probably would have got paid, but… )

  • A. Photographer

    In our era of everybody stealing images and music etc. from the internet it is natural that you think this. FACT: ANY WORK THAT YOU CREATE, YOU OWN THE RIGHTS FOR. All the client owns is the print(s) that they were given and DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO REPRODUCE IT IN ANY FASHION! Unless this is agreed to in writing by the creator of the said work!

    Yes this guy was insensitive and should have waited a bit and then dealt with the newspapers, not the family, but that is a separate point.

  • Eqbard

    I don’t understand this. It’s illegal to steal. The news media are professionals and know this. They make a ton of money off this tragic story – greatly enhanced by illegally using this artist’s work – and I repeat that they are pros who did so knowingly. Who are the real vultures here?

  • A. Photographer

    Reprinted from

    Mr. Greenberg’s response

    Edward C. Greenberg
    I am Mr. Wolf’s attorney referenced in your article. Unlike other reporters you elected not to reach out to our office. Your failure to do so has resulted in an extraordinarily misleading article and one which portrays a selfless act and turns into one of apparent greed.

    First off, your viewers/readers ought to have been informed that such behemoth corporations such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, NY Daily News,The Washington Post, Time Magazine, The LA Times and Fox News among countless other photographers and companies have earned substantial fees and benefited mightily for themselves as a result of their illegally infringing upon Mr. Wolf’s Constitutionally protected right to his registeredCopyright. ution. None have offered to contribute a dime to charity although requested to do so. They escape your scrutiny.
    Mr. Wolf retained this office to raise money to donate to charity based in large measure on two factors:

    1. He has the full support of the Green family; and
    2. This office represented Stuart Gross the photographer whose images of abused child/ murder victim Lisa Steinberg, served to convict Mr. Steinberg of manslaughter and send him to prison for over 18 years.

    Enormous sums of money were raised through litigation when Mr. Gross’ heartbreaking images were similarly stolen by major news sources. The monies raised by us via litigation and settlements were donated to the Foundling Hospital here in NY. The Foundling Hospital ran a crisis nursery for the protection of abused and battered children. My wife served as a volunteer there. This special facility was run by the now deceased Dr. Vincent Fontana then the leading expert on child abuse in America and the Archdiocese of New York. Largely as a result of our efforts, the reporting of acts of child abuse by teachers has become mandatory in virtually every state of the union. Untold thousands of children were helped at the hospital and continue to be helped as a result of the funds generated and the awareness raised by Mr. Gross’ efforts.

    The complaint in this matter will be a public record as of tomorrow afternoon. Rather than contact the source, you obtained the “opinion” of an attorney who has commented on unknown and unknowable facts and circumstances. Significant settlements have already been made which have generated thousands of dollars which will go to local charities thanks to Mr. Wolf. Your article ignores the fact that the Green family is very supportive of these efforts and fails to criticize in the slightest those who violated the law, stole Mr. Wolf’s images for their sole economic gain or as most fair minded people would call it, “simple corporate greed”.

    We have represented photographers in similar situations before. They (and I) have selflessly donated funds generated by the outright theft of their work to appropriate charities. Never have we seen such a reaction to such altruism in the press as displayed in your article. You have sanctified the guilty and demonized the Good Samaritan.


    Edward C. Greenberg
    [email protected]
    Today, 00:45:53

  • Electricimpulse

    Just a chime in, I do believe in Canada the copyright law is different in that the copyright of an image created for a paying client is in the hands of the client unless specified elsewhere. Anyone confirm or dispell this?

  • Pet Care Rx Reviews

    In any case, sometimes the right to something doesn’t make it smart to claim it. He’s either moving or changing the name of his studio.

  • John

    I believe this is correct. My order form/contract stipulates that I own the copyright – agreed before I shoot. It also states I have the right to use the images for advertising/promotion but I always ask permission anyway, and if denied, scratch it off the order form/contract. I also always ask permission (when I’m interested) to use the images in my stock library.

  • John

    Absolutely agree with you, Egbard

  • Dennis Strickland

    It is sad that in any tragedy the wolves come out to prey one the victims to make money.

  • Electricimpulse

    Same here, wasn’t aware of the major difference in Copyright law between the countries regarding this issue when I first started getting into photography, reading so much content from American sources kind of blinds you to the idea where you work can be completely different.

  • guest

    I’m probably in the minority, but I have trouble taking any “professional” seriously who uses Gmail or Hotmail as their official e-mail domain.

  • Brian Jones

    Actually, he was offered “standard licensing fees” AFTER it was ran, when he went to the newspapers for copyright violations. The people that ran the photo were in the wrong, and then tried to get by on the cheap when they were caught.

  • BecThomas

    It would seem people are totally comfortable with big news organizations profiting from a tragedy but not the people that take the photo’s they print… This seems to be the typical attitude of the times…

  • BecThomas

    It would seem people are totally comfortable with big news organizations profiting from a tragedy but not the people that take the photo’s they print… This seems to be the typical attitude of the times…

  • Roberts Cottages 20

    Granted, it’s all about control and shooting on a small lot or in a studio gives far more control than on-scene.

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  • Queph

    This really goes to show how we have come to trust these large conglomerated corporations and allowed them to turn each of us against each other. These corporations are immortal and are given far more power and access than individuals. Sad and bad things happen every day, not one counts how many times they have squashed an ant when walking on the side walk. This little girl was not an ant, she was a innocent person/bi-standard, and the papers are making a ton of money on the tragedy. WAKE UP PEOPLE.

  • RudyTorres

    Putting your email in a public forum where it can be ‘scraped’ by spambots would be dumb. I’ve had two private email accounts with three different white label companies and they by no means have the same safety and spam features that a Gmail or other similar service can provide.

  • RudyTorres

    News organizations are commercial operations so fair use should not apply considering they are in the business of licensing content. The photog is entitled to the fair market value of such use.

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